After school on Tuesdays, my youngest son and I travel 38 minutes to his occupational therapist in a neighboring city that sits on the state line. Living where we do in the Carolinas allows us the benefit of being able to bounce between the two states as we need to. It also lets us enjoy the best of both worlds. We get the laid back quietness of small-town life and the updated progression of the bigger cities around us.
One of the newly minted 6-year-old’s favorite things to do is to point out American flags. He doesn’t just point them out, he announces their existence with excitement. Since he was a little dude, each time we passed a flag he’d yell out “MERICA FLAG!” at the top of his little lungs. Now I promise you, it is as cute as it sounds, until you are driving and all of a sudden there is an ear spilling “MERICA FLAG!!” coming from right behind you.
So this trip was no different. As we were heading out of the driveway and getting ready to haul butt onto the highway, he spots a flag flying behind one of the houses on the connecting street.
“That’s not a Merica flag, Mom.” I could hear the trouble in his voice. I knew what flag he was talking about, so I didn’t ask him to describe it to me. But because of the kid he is, he went ahead and described it in detail.
“That flag is all wrong. It’s red. And it don’t have strips. No, wait. It do have strips! But they are in the wrong place. Where are the stars, Mom? Is that another country’s flag?”
And I didn’t know what to say. But he is not a kid that you simply can not answer. He’s like a game show where the gimmick is that you have to answer before the buzzer goes off or you get attacked by bees. And the five-second timer had already started. I was three second in the hole and his hands were on the open lock of the bee box.
“It’s kinda like another country, but from a very long time ago, buddy.” I knew exactly what flag he was talking about. I had grown up here in the Carolinas. I had watched Dukes of Hazzard a lot as a kid. There had been one of them on top of the car I had loved more than I loved any of those Duke boys.
There had been one of those flags on a pole in my yard as a kid. I’ve had my fair share of uncles, both biological and not, who had that flag on their caps, or trucks, or jackets (sleeves not always included). I even went to school with a few dudes who ended up with that flag as a tattoo. And after doing some family research, I found out I had a few great-great-great something or others that served and died as part of the Confederate States of America. So I know that flag. I know its history.
But I also know its present. I know about the Proud Boys and Charlottesville. I know about the Far Right and all those idiots with their popped collars and tiki torches hiding behind their stupid red hats and family money. I know about White Nationalism and our leaders’ hesitation to call it out. I know that this is a festering wound that has been open and bleeding since before my son, my self, or my great-great-great whatever was born.
But what I don’t know, what I am totally clueless about, is how to fill a such a sweet kid in on it. How do I tell a little dude about the current of misplaced ignorance and intentional hate that been a part of this country longer than we have?
This is a kid who was so excited to come home his first few weeks of school with stories about having found his twin. I thought it was going to be another kiddo with the same eye or hair color as him since his are lighter than the rest of ours at home. When I shared the story with his teacher, I found out that was not the case at all. Let’s put it this way, if my little dude was Ivory, his twin was Ebony. Nothing about them physically matched, yet they were twins.
How do I tell him that there are people who hate others because of their color? Or their birth location? Or because of all the long list of other things that bigots seem to want to get bent over?
There’s no explaining hate to an innocent child. It’s one of those doors that you want to keep locked for as long as possible. And I’ll be damned if some idiots relic is going to be the thing to unlocks that door.
He needs to know about history, and I have no problem explaining that in an age-appropriate way of course. But what is history without the gory bits? How are they supposed to be included to a child that has no idea that we’ve allowed hate is so commonplaced?
One of the first things we teach children, after the feeding and bathroom stuff, is The Golden Rule; Treat others the way you want to be treated. We force them to be inclusive and to share and to take turns. We make sure they know that their actions affect others.
And yet, they are surrounded by adults who don’t live by the same rule. We hate, we lie, and we hurt others for no other reason than because they are different. We treat others poorly because we want to get treated better. Somewhere between being best friends on the playground and having to file taxes, we forget that we are all the same.
He stopped counted flags when we got off the Interstate and he saw the giant American flag the car dealership uses in their commercials. It was the flag to end all flags. I’m pretty sure the people beside us in traffic heard him yell “MERICA FLAG!!” on that one.
He didn’t ask about the questionable flag again, but I couldn’t get it out of my head.
We owe our children better. We owe then easy answers to questions. We owe them easy futures that don’t include cleaning up after the horrible messes we’ve made. We owe them more than scars from wounds our hate created. We owe them unity. We owe them flags that they can be proud of.
Angela Zimmerman is an over-caffeinated mama and wife who has dreams of being a writer and of sleeping longer. Her adventures are chronicled at Conjure and Coffee (https://conjureandcoffee.com/) and on her twitter @conjureNcoffee even though she’s more of a lurker. Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/conjureandcoffeeblog/